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Published: October 13, 2013
Largest Jewish Funeral?
I saw on the news that the funeral of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef was attended by 850,000 people. What amazed me even more is that funeral was held just 4 hours after he died!
I was wondering – when was the last time that a Jewish funeral was this large?
Certainly this is the largest recorded Jewish funeral in modern times – i.e. since the founding of the State of Israel in 1948. To find a larger funeral, believe it or not, we may have to go all the way back 3,300 years to the Jewish wandering in the desert.
When Moshe died, his burial was private and the location remains an everlasting secret. Similarly, after Aharon died on Mount Hor the Jewish people were shocked to discover he did not return to the camp; he also had no public funeral. Yet given that that all the Jewish people encamped and traveled together, there was no doubt total nationwide mourning at the time of their deaths (as well as Miriam's) – which hasn't been possible again till modern times. (Deut. 34:5-8; Numbers 20:29 with Rashi)
So how many people mourned? The Torah states explicitly that the entire nation mourned Aharon's passing (Numbers 20:29). Considering the count of 600,000 men aged 20-60, and adding the men under 20, the women, the Levites, and the elderly, the total would have been a few million mourning the death of Aharon. (See Numbers 1:46.)
Beyond that, we find no mention of a large funeral in the biblical books of Judges, Samuel and Kings. (Though it does mention “large eulogies -- Zechariah 12:11; Talmud Moed Kattan 28b.)
It is also logical to assume there has been no larger Jewish funeral through the ages. After the Jewish people’s settling in the Land of Israel (3,300 years ago), if a person died, it took quite a while to notify all the Jews throughout the country about the funeral. It would have been too much to wait with any deceased person without refrigeration, and against our long-standing custom of burying the dead quickly.
Today, with SMS and Twitter, the word about the passing of the great sage Rabbi Ovadia Yosef made it possible for so many people to travel to Jerusalem on such short notice.